There are those Sundays when you get started slowly, and feel a little antsy actually sitting and reading the paper so you decide to go on a really long run. You come home to a Sam in the kitchen meticulously chopping cabbage and green onion, boiling eggs and catching up with his mom on the phone. Suddenly, you’re no longer antsy. The sun is out and it feels like the best, slowest kind of Sunday.
That’s what happened this past weekend. We even had the back door open and the heat turned off. It was a big day here in Seattle. There are many things that Sam has made for me this year that I’d love to recreate on my own or even share with you, but most of them aren’t really written down. Sam’s theory on cooking, baking and recipes in general is that you need to have a feel for them more than anything. This is not my strength. He believes in having good base recipes that you just have a sense for and then adapt from there. You want to be able to make a great scone and pancake whether you’re in your own kitchen or out in a remote cabin during the summer. You want to be able to roast vegetables, make salad dressing, cook a simple fish, and make cornbread and jammy pastry. He does these without a hard-and-fast recipe. They’re basics in our house, and he’s been working hard to get me to be more comfortable shutting the cookbooks and learning to trust my own instincts in remembering and recreating them.
This coleslaw? Sam wanted me to make sure to tell you that this is most definitely a dish where you stock up on the ingredients, but use your intuition to guide you regarding the amounts. This isn’t fine cooking or precise baking. He added a little more mustard this time around and we threw in all of our parsley so it wouldn’t go to waste. It’s not the same coleslaw that he might have made for himself a month ago, but it was delicious all the same. For this reason, the recipe listed below is really a rough guide, so set aside a bit of time and chop and taste and adjust as you like.
Sure, coleslaw is no Salted Caramel Cupcake. It’s no Deluxe Brownie or Shaker Lemon Pie, but it can turn a Sunday around just like that, and actually keeps in the fridge beautifully for a few weekday lunches. Unlike most coleslaw recipes I’ve tried, Sam’s version has bits of hard-boiled egg, a smattering of green onion, celery and poppy seeds, and a healthy swath of Italian parsley. He dresses it with both mustard and mayonnaise and a little salt and pepper, and tastes and adjusts often as he goes. Remember in my last post how I said that I often throw together meals and that many folks don’t necessarily define this as actual cooking? Well if I throw them together, Sam most certainly composes them. He chops vegetables much finer than I do, he takes more time and has more patience. For this reason, this is one most lovely coleslaw. I can’t wait for you to try it.
As we sat in the nook on Sunday afternoon finessing this coleslaw, it was hard not to think about what we’d been up to one year ago–the weekend I picked Sam up from Point Reyes Station and it all began. A year of plane trips and late night phone calls, visits and holidays. On Monday we celebrated our anniversary together with a very special dinner at Spinasse filled with buttery pasta, good wine, rabbit meatballs, and a goat cheese mousse with local rhubarb. Waking up yesterday with big to-do lists, we got right to work: me running errands for Marge, he working on a design project. As I sat flustered in traffic, I couldn’t stop thinking about the dinner we shared and how much I wished I were back at that candlelit table, slowly ambling away an unusually warm evening with Sam. But in between those meals, those long conversations, those glasses of wine, there has to be wonderfully basic food to sustain us. Quiet Sundays, boiled eggs and cabbage, The Book Review and calls to catch up with your mom. Sam: I hope this upcoming year is filled with many more bowls of coleslaw (and banana pancakes too, please). Together. On Sundays. As I know it will be.
Chop the cabbage as fine as you have thepatience for.
In a large bowl, combine the cabbage, green onion, parsley, celery and eggs. Toss to combine. Add the mustard and mayonnaise and stir together. Taste to see where it stands; add more mustard or mayonnaise if you wish. Season with salt and pepper. Finish with a generous dusting of poppy seeds and mix the whole thing together.
Store covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.